Our Calling in Singleness

Calling in Singleness

Purpose. Calling. Mission. These words get thrown around and we don’t always know what they mean or how to differentiate between them.

When God created us He designed us for a unique purpose – one that is different from anyone else who has ever lived or ever will live. It is part of who we are – who He created us to be. It is something we can fulfill no matter our age or physical ability. As long as we have breath in these earthly bodies, we can be living our purpose. I’ve observed that when people know their life purpose and consciously live it, they experience freedom, fulfillment, and contentment. And that feelings of loneliness, defeat, and discouragement make only fleeting appearances, and usually only when one loses sight of their God-given purpose.

So what, then, is a Calling?

While our purpose has more to do with who we are, our calling or mission has more to do with what we do. Our purpose is lifelong and doesn’t change, from the time we take our first breath until we take our last. A calling or mission is God’s assignment for a specific period of time or to a certain group of people.

Lately, as I’ve written about before, I’ve become aware through reading Barry Danylak’s excellent book, Redeeming Singleness, that single Christians have a unique testimony to give the world: that a relationship with Jesus is all-sufficient and all-satisfying.

After reading Redeeming Singleness, I knew this intellectually and it excited me. But I didn’t actually own it until one night I woke with a jolt and a feeling of aloneness overwhelming me. I hadn’t felt that in a long time. Immediately I asked the Lord, “Why this feeling now, and why DID You choose singleness for me when I would have enjoyed the companionship of marriage?”

Immediately He replied, “So you could demonstrate to others that I am all-sufficient. That I am enough.” His presence was so real, and the feeling of aloneness disappeared. I was satisfied with His answer, and soon fell contentedly back to sleep.

Sometime soon after I wrote this in my journal:

My calling in singleness is to give witness that a relationship with Jesus is all-sufficient and all-satisfying and provides immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine!

 In reality, this is God’s calling to every Christian, single and married alike. Expecting anyone or anything else to provide what we need, rather than God alone, is idolatry. God alone is our Provider. Sometimes – in fact, often – He uses another person as His instrument to meet our needs. But our needs being fulfilled isn’t dependent on the person God is using as His instrument, but rather on God Himself. If that person would disappear for whatever reason, God is still our Provider and will provide our needs by some other means.

But while all Christians are called to rely on God alone, single Christians have an especially effective testimony when they demonstrate that Jesus truly is all-sufficient in the absence of what most of the world considers to be a necessity for a satisfying life: a romantic or sexual relationship. When Christians remain celibate without a spouse or family and live joyful and purposeful lives sold out to Jesus, they give witness that Jesus is truly is all-sufficient and all-satisfying. Those who have lost spouses by death or divorce have incredibly powerful testimonies to Jesus’ all-sufficiency when they continue joyfully onward with the life purpose God has given them.

This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t grieve, or that never-married singles shouldn’t grieve over what never was. Grief is a God-given process for healing and it’s important we walk through it when we lose someone or something significant to us, including dreams that never come true.

Does Jesus Being All-sufficient Mean We Don’t Need People?

I know this can be a bit confusing, because we do need people! We don’t need marriage, but we do need relationships with others. After all, God said in Genesis 2:18 that it’s not good for man to be alone. At the time Adam had a face-to-face relationship with God, so he truly was experiencing God’s all-sufficiency, but God said he also needed other humans. Some think God meant it wasn’t good for Adam to not have a spouse, and if that were true for Adam in a perfect relationship with God, it’s true for all the rest of us, too.

But that’s not what God said. Adam was the only human being on the planet at the time. He needed another human to converse with and relate to in ways he couldn’t with the other creatures God had already created.

In Redeeming Singleness, Danylak writes:

Paul is not affirming [in 1 Corinthians 7] that it is good to be alone but only that, in appropriate circumstances, it is good not to marry. Conversely, when Genesis 2: 18 affirms that it is not good to live alone, marriage is given as a provision. But this does not imply that marriage was designed to be the sole provision for one’s aloneness. We recall that Jesus was a single man but not a man alone, one devoid of family and relationships. Although Paul may have had some extended time of solitude immediately after his conversion, he, like Jesus, was a man immersed in new family relationships. We are struck by how many different companions, partners, co-laborers, and underlings are mentioned from the period of his Gentile ministry. His use of family language is robust as he addresses those in his church constantly as “brothers” (Rom. 1:13; 1 Cor. 3:1; Gal. 4:12; Phil. 1:12; 1 Thess. 1:4), and “sisters” (Philem. 2), “children” (Gal. 4:19; 1 Cor. 4:14), “legitimate sons” (1 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4), and “kinsmen” (Rom. 16:7)…. Though Paul did not have his own wife and family, he experienced profound familial intimacy within the spiritual family of God in which he had utterly invested himself. [1]

Danylak goes on to explain the difference between these intimate relationships and the intimacy of marriage:

As men free to invest all their time and energy in advancing the kingdom of God, neither Paul nor Jesus lived a life alone. This is not to suggest that the relationships that come through the new family of God are a substitute for a spouse, a way to fill the relational gap of not having a spouse and family. There is something unique in God’s joining man and wife in “one flesh” that is never replicated in other types of human relationships. In remaining single, one sacrifices such physical intimacy.

But intimacy has other dimensions, beyond the physical. A bond of spiritual unity as brothers and sisters in Christ can emerge through a oneness of mind in corporate prayer and worship, a shared eternal hope, and a common mission of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples that also powerfully transcends human day-to-day experience. The freedom and flexibility of the single life will often open access to levels and opportunities of spiritual intimacy with other believers that those who are married do not have available in the same way and to the same degree.[2]

This, I believe, is part of the “immeasurably more” part of the singles’ calling (to give witness that a relationship with Jesus is all-sufficient and all-satisfying and provides immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine). It is in reference to Ephesians 3:20-21 that says,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Of course it means so much more, too! “Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” means it’s not definable, predictable, or measurable. After all, the Sovereign God is our Provider, who has the resources of the universe and beyond at His disposal to provide all that we need – in abundance!

How to Experience the All-sufficiency of Jesus

You may be wondering, “This all sounds wonderful, but I’m not feeling it. How do I make it a reality in my life?”

I totally get that! We often understand things in our heads, but can’t feel them in our hearts. Faith, after all, is not knowing things intellectually but experiencing them.

The key to experiencing the all-sufficiency of Jesus is simple, but it may be one of the most difficult things ever: full surrender to God – your will, your plans, your desires given in exchange for His. We can’t experience Jesus to be all-satisfying until we relinquish our goals and dreams in exchange for His for us. The incredible thing is, no matter how wonderful we think our goals and dreams are, His goals and dreams for us are incredibly more wonderful – immeasurably more, in fact!

Oswald Chambers says it this way in My Utmost for His Highest:

‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.’ The surrender here is of my self to Jesus, my self with His rest at the heart of it. ‘If you would be My disciple, give up your right to yourself to Me.’ Then the remainder of the life is nothing but the manifestation of this surrender. When once the surrender has taken place we never need ‘suppose’ anything. We do not need to care what our circumstances are, Jesus is amply sufficient.[3]

Amply sufficient. Can you give witness that Jesus is amply sufficient and more? That He is all-satisfying? If you haven’t yet experienced this abundant life in Jesus, take a look at what you might be holding back. Are you hanging onto a specific dream or goal? Perhaps one you’ve had since childhood? I know I was! The abundant life is found in relinquishing those dreams and saying, “God, I don’t know what You have planned for me, but I KNOW that it is good, and that it is ‘immeasurably more than all I could ever ask or imagine!’”

[1] Danylak, Barry. Redeeming Singleness (Foreword by John Piper): How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (pp. 201-202). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[2] Danylak, Barry. Redeeming Singleness (Foreword by John Piper): How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life(pp. 202-203). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[3] Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (Kindle Locations 4142-4145). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

 

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The Strength in Aloneness

Aloneness

“A servant of God must stand so much alone that he never knows he is alone.”  –Oswald Chambers

“Everyone deserted me…. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” –Apostle Paul, 2 Timothy 4:16b-17a HCSB

We need people. I’ll get that declaration out of the way at the beginning! God never meant for us to live in isolation. I highly value the network of trustworthy people God has given me to connect with on various levels, and encourage others to find and embrace their own network.

But having a connection to people is secondary, not primary.

If you’re scratching your head at this point, I understand. Most of the messages we get from society and even from church indicate that a meaningful life comes from being connected to other people, especially a spouse and family. The truth in that assumption is that living for something or someone other than ourselves gives us meaning in life. The lie in that assumption is that being attached to another person or persons gives us value.

True Value and Meaning

The full truth is we have value because God created us and loves us, and we find meaning in life when we live out our God-given purpose. People can come and go in our lives, and circumstances can change, but the truth of what gives us value and meaning in life remains constant and can never be taken from us. This is the secret of learning to stand so much alone that we never realize we are alone, as Oswald Chambers said in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.[1]  When God is our sole Source for joy, meaning, and purpose, the coming and going of people in our lives, as well as any change in circumstances, does not affect our joy, meaning, and purpose.

A great example of this was Paul and Barnabas after it became apparent they had differing opinions about including John Mark on their missionary trip. While they both felt so strongly that they parted ways, each continued to pursue the calling God had given them personally. If either had believed they needed the other to accomplish their individual callings, the disagreement would have been disastrous. Instead, it freed them both to live their own God-given life purpose: Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and Barnabas to encourage Christians young in the faith.

The person who has served as the greatest example of this in my own life is my father. He first heard and accepted God’s calling to serve Him when he was in his early 20s – first as a single man in Germany and Nepal, and then as a married man in Belize and numerous locations in the States. After 50 years of marriage to my mother who was his ideal partner and companion in life, he is now single again. But while it is evident he misses my mother tremendously, her death hasn’t affected his joy, meaning, and purpose in life. His God-given purpose to live for Jesus and encourage others to live for Him is as primary in his life now as it was while his wife was living, and as it was before he married her.

The strength of learning to stand so much alone that we never realize we are alone, is that we are freed to live God’s purpose no matter who or what comes and goes in our lives.

The Benefits of Learning Aloneness in God

Aloneness with God is not just for singles. As I pointed out in my father’s life, knowing his purpose aside from his marital status has given him a meaningful and joyful life – before marriage, during marriage, and after marriage. There are significant benefits for everyone in learning aloneness with God:

  • We live joyfully and purposefully no matter what happens, because we know our God-given purpose is not dependent on circumstances or people
  • We become strong and confident – not because of self-reliance or self-sufficiency, but because we rely fully on God alone
  • We live in freedom from fear and anxiety because we know that no matter what, God is with us
  • We have a strong connection with our Heavenly Father because we realize while everything and everyone else may come and go, He alone remains constant

Advantages for Singles

As Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 7, singles have more freedom to have an undivided focus in living for the Lord and in learning this aloneness with God:

  • Freedom to follow God’s calling without needing to make it fit in with a spouse’s purpose and calling
  • Freedom to choose if and when to be with others according to God’s purpose for us, rather than to fill a marital obligation
  • Freedom of more time alone with God to strengthen our relationship with Him
  • Freedom to rely on God alone as our Provider, rather than being tempted to rely on a spouse to fill that role

Of course, those who have a life partner in marriage have their own set of advantages, and often the life purposes of a married couple fit hand in glove, adding strength to both.

The bottom line is, no matter our circumstances, learning to stand so much alone with God that we never feel alone is a blessing and gift for every Christian, and one I urge you to grasp firmly and value deeply!

[1] Chambers, Oswald (1927). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (April 22; Kindle Locations 1848-1849). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

Would you like to discover your Life Purpose?

Visit our Finding Your Purpose page to learn more!

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Making Decisions Alone

Life by Faith

A number of years ago three different single women I know bought their own homes – one had been widowed twice, another once, and the third never married. Once the transactions were complete, each one struggled with doubts whether they had made the right decision. I observed the struggles, heard the doubts, and prayed for peace for each of them. I also empathized.

Making big decisions alone is not an easy thing. Carrying it out alone is even harder.

Satan wants us to be miserable as we agonize over life’s decisions and then agonize even more with self-doubt afterward. Our Heavenly Father, on the other hand, not only wants us to have peace and joy as we make our decisions, He promises to guide those decisions and assist us as we carry them out. He came to give us abundant life, not misery! Ever our Constant Companion, He will never leave us nor forsake us, and will be constantly guiding and helping us at every step.

Big decisions – or maybe even little ones – can paralyze us, especially when we are fearful of making a mistake. I love my father’s advice in such situations. He has often told me to make decisions based on what I believe God is leading me to do and on what I know at the time. If later it becomes evident I need to pivot and go in a different direction, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the first decision was a mistake. Even if it was, it’s not the end of the world. We serve a redeeming God who is bigger than any mistake we make and is able to bring good out of every situation:

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 HCSB)

Our decisions and choices do have consequences, there’s no doubt. But the truth I hang onto any time I have to make a decision is that in the end, God in His sovereignty determines the outcome. This truth gives us much freedom, as does all truth.

None of the three women were truly alone in their decision-making process of choosing and buying a home. God’s promise to be with us and to guide us is real, if not always physically tangible.

So how do we know if our decisions are truly led of God? The best answer to this was the encouragement one of these women gave to another:

“If you trusted God and acknowledged Him in the process, then you have to believe that He directed your decision.”

Another friend of mine said something similar when I was doubting a decision I had made:

“A life lived by faith is not one of second guessing.”

What a freeing truth! Truly if we are asking God to guide our lives, if we are committed to following the promptings of His Spirit within us, and if the choices we make are in line with these promptings and His written Word, then we can be confident our choices are not only within His will, but directed by Him.

If you are struggling with whether God guides and how He does, take time to study and mediate on these nuggets from Scripture; they reveal His truth so much better than I can!

“The Lord is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8 HCSB)

“He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.” (Psalm 25:9 HCSB)

“I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.” (Psalm 32:8 HCSB)

“A man’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way. Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord holds his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24 HCSB)

“You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory.” (Psalm 73:24 HCSB)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 HCSB)

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 HCSB)

“Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: ‘This is the way. Walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21 HCSB)

“This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says: I am Yahweh your God, who teaches you for your benefit, who leads you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17 HCSB)

“The Lord will always lead you.” (Isaiah 58:11a HCSB)

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 HCSB)

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26 HCSB)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 HCSB)

“For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13 HCSB)

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5 HCSB)

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Grieving What Never Was

Forget the former things

Scrolling through Facebook produces a mixed bag of content – the everyday reports from your family and friends, the funny stuff that’s shared and reshared, the stuff that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, the occasional offensive post, and the ones I like best – the inspirational words that speak truth deep into your soul.

Two days ago John Piper posted one of the latter. It has resonated with over 40,000 people according to the number of “likes,” shares, and comments it has garnered so far. The reason I saw it at all was because several of my Facebook friends from various different walks of life either liked or shared it. Piper’s post gave this admonition:

“Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.” – John Piper

 Every person living on this imperfect planet has hoped for something that will never be. We often think of losses as those things we once had but no longer possess. But sometimes losses are intangible, as in dreams or hopes we once had that have either grown dim or died.

forest fire

Grief is part of life for everyone in this fallen world. The difference is the losses we grieve aren’t exactly the same from person to person. Whether it is never having a child, losing a child, or raising a child who doesn’t make “right” choices, there is grief involved. Whether it is not having a spouse, having a spouse who doesn’t understand you, or worse yet one who betrays or abandons you, there is grief involved. There is grief over the loss of freedom just as there is grief over the loss of companionship. There is grief when a job is lost, a vacation doesn’t live up to expectations, a friend does something hurtful, or a ministry dies a long slow death. Each and every person has hopes and expectations that go unfulfilled.

new plant growth

 Piper makes an important point: before being able to grasp hold of the life and good things we do have, we need to let go of the old, even if the old is a dream that never came true.

For years I’ve been well aware of the need for singles, especially those who grew up assuming they would marry and have a family, to grieve the loss of what never came to pass. But it was while visiting a ninety-something year old single friend that it hit me that the grieving never ends.

This amazing friend of mine had lived a full and purposeful life and was loved by many. But as she settled into an apartment in a retirement community she observed her friends and neighbors entertaining grandchildren and great-grandchildren and felt deeply the loss of not having her own. This was a woman who had many friends and family who visited her, but still she felt that loss – the loss of a specific lifestyle never lived.

This was both disconcerting and encouraging to me – disconcerting because I realized the grieving in this life never completely ends, but at the same time tremendously encouraging because I also realized that, despite the need to grieve, one could live a full and meaningful life. My friend was living proof!

Piper’s quote reminds me of one of my favorite Bible passages where God says in Isaiah 43:

forest stream

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Here God was telling Israel how he was going to redeem what they had lost while in captivity in Babylon. They had many losses to mourn, both tangible and intangible.  And yet God was saying, “Forget all that and see this new thing I am doing for you, and this new life I am giving you!”

I believe He is saying the same to us: “No, that dream you had for your life isn’t the plan I had for you. Yes, it is a good thing, and I do give that gift to some of my children. But for you I have something different – something good and meaningful, a purpose in my Kingdom that I appointed you for specifically. A purpose that will give you more fulfillment than anything else ever could. After all, I have promised each and every one of my children an abundant life!”

new growth

Can we trust Him for that? Can we reach out our hands and receive it from Him who loves us more deeply than our earthly minds and hearts can comprehend?

Yes, grieving is essential to all God has for us. It’s important we weep over that which we hoped for but never was. It’s crucial because it’s how we let go of the old, how we stop dwelling on the past, and how we are then able to open our arms wide to all that our Heavenly Father has for us!


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